Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
Bluetooth speakers have been a hot item for the past couple of years. The demand for portable Bluetooth speakers remains high, especially for smaller ones that can be easily packed for travel. This demand has resulted in more and more "micro" sized speakers. These speakers need to include a Bluetooth receiver, battery, and amplifier, which leaves little room for drivers and their needed enclosure volume. Sound quality usually suffers, as does output level.
Monster's Superstar is from the company's second generation and is touted as the "world's smallest audiophile speaker." While I do not see any of the audiophiles I know trading in their carefully crafted home speaker systems for a portable Bluetooth speaker, it is nice to see manufacturers paying attention to sound quality and not just the number of features that can be listed on the product's packaging. That said, the Monster Superstar has a full array of features included for its $149 asking price, including both wired and Bluetooth connectivity options, a noise-canceling microphone, and IPX-4 splash resistance, thanks in part to a removable silicone case. The Superstar is extremely compact; measuring five by 2.5 by 0.9 inches (about the size of two smartphones stacked on top of one another) and weighing eight ounces, it can fit into many pockets without weighing you down. For those interested in color coordination, the Superstar can be had in grey, blue, or green.
After charging the speaker's internal battery through the micro USB port, I spent some time listening to the Superstar. I was immediately impressed by the midrange. Male vocals were reproduced much better than one would expect from such a small speaker. The Superstar has a pair of small (less than one inch) active drivers flanking a passive radiator on the front of the speaker, and a second passive radiator is on the back. This driver combination provided a surprisingly solid and balanced midrange. When listening to Joe Cocker's "Feeling Alright" (AIFF file from the album Ultimate Collection, Hip-O Records), the presentation was well balanced. With this track and similar recordings where the focus is on vocals and strings, the limited low-end frequency extension did not pose any problem.
However, when listening to bass-heavy tracks like Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" (AIFF file from the album Title, Epic) at louder volumes, the missing low frequencies were more apparent. Lowering the volume let the passive radiators catch up a bit, but their small size simply prohibits any significant output of low bass.
The Superstar's small size made it easy to carry around with me on lots of overnight trips. On some of my trips, I had to conduct conference calls and needed to use a speakerphone so that others at my location could participate. The Superstar smoked my iPhone's internal speaker, which was not surprising at all. More interesting to me was that the microphone did a good job picking up our voices, and the Superstar did a good job reproducing voices with which I am familiar. The ability to reproduce familiar voices is a good indicator of its abilities to reproduce other signals.
• As with Monster's ClarityHD Micro, the SuperStar's quality is better than most similarly sized micro portable speakers I have heard. Between the two speakers, I found the SuperStar to be more refined, especially in the midrange.
• The small size of the SuperStar made it easy to bring with me just about everywhere.
• Bluetooth and eighth-inch plug connectivity allows compatibility with a wide variety of phones and music players.
• The speaker has some annoying voice prompts. The loud voice that you hear when powering it on can be especially annoying when you are out in a group.
• The speaker exhibits distortion at higher volume and limited bass.
Comparison and Competition
There are countless other small, battery-powered Bluetooth speakers on the market. Some of the more popular options include the Jawbone Mini Jambox ($179), Bose Soundlink ($129), and Cambridge Audio Go V2 ($179).
The Superstar's small size and solid midrange performance make it very easy to like. The speaker easily fits into a jacket pocket or a small brief case, so it's easy to bring along on pleasure outings and business trips. All micro-sized, portable Bluetooth speakers have limited bass and dynamic capabilities, and I kept these limitations in mind when considering Monster's "world's smallest audiophile speaker" tagline for the Superstar. No speaker I have heard anywhere near this size is capable of providing concert-level volume, pounding bass, or a well-articulated soundstage. What I do want from a speaker this size is something that can provide clear music reproduction at reasonable volumes without any detracting artifacts. The Superstar does this. The Superstar did a good job from the midrange to the lower treble region, allowing vocals and strings to be reproduced with much more balance than I have heard from a speaker this size.
Listeners have many choices when it comes to micro-sized Bluetooth speakers, which is a good thing but can making choosing the right one for you a difficult task. For me, it is not difficult to recommend that the Superstar be on your audition list.
• Monster Inspiration Active Noise-Canceling Headphones at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Monster ClarityHD Micro Portable Bluetooth Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit our Audiophile Bookshelf and Small Speakers category page at HomeTheaterReview.com.